"Why are we here?" The Blonde was looking particularly angry and for once I couldn't fault her. When we'd arrived, the maître'd had led us to our table at a processional pace more suited to a funeral, seated us with cold aplomb (and as regular readers will be aware, I like my aplomb luke-warm to hot) and had then, with quiet dignity, picked up the Blonde's handbag and placed it in an ice-bucket. Where it sat still, the stitching slowly coming apart and the faux-faux-crocodile skin losing its patina.
Faux-faux-crocodile, if you're interested, turns out to be real alligator. The trick is to say faux-faux with such a tone of world-weariness that the pest who's demanding to know if it's real or not understands that you hear the question all the time and are sick of having to dignify it with an answer. I am still trying to think what other situations I could put this to use in.
"Because I review restaurants, darling," I said, "and this is the one for next week's column."
"I hope you won't be saying anything nice about it!" When she's in a tizzy she looks a little like Charlie Chaplin, which I happen to find quite erotic. I may have to buy her a bowler hat when I am dragged to New York to replace the handbag.
The waiter reappeared at that point and asked what we'd like to drink, and if we were ready to order. Pleasantly he appeared not to recognise me, and as the Blonde was still staring at her handbag and fuming I ordered more or less at random from the various vellum pages that were arrayed in front of me. Then I asked him about them.
"Vellum? That's that thing from the Lord of the Rings film, isn't it?"
I opined that although making a menu out of Gollum might be seen by some as the only humane thing to do, there probably wasn't enough of him to make menus for the whole restaurant. The waiter did his best troglodyte impression, and, heaven help me, I persevered.
"Why is this menu made of this substance?" I translated, waving a sheet of cured sheepskin under his nose.
Can I say I was surprised? Can I say that I shouldn't have been?
Twenty minutes later he was back with our starter. He set a glass plinth down in the middle of the table, set a single shrimp atop it, produced a tiny dish of what I assumed was cream, or possibly whipped horseradish sauce, and carefully lathered up the shrimp's face.
"What's he doing?" whispered the Blonde. She has a stage whisper, so nearly every head in the room turned, save for the waiter who was now industriously stropping a straight-edge razor.
"I think he's shaving the shrimp," I whispered back.
I couldn't answer that, even after requesting a copy of the menu when we left. The menu certainly listed shaved shrimp, but was I really expected to believe that they were going to shave each individual shrimp in front of us and then expect us to eat them?
"I need a new handbag," said the Blonde as she hailed a cab by the simple expedient of unbuttoning the top button of her blouse.
"I shall get you a hat to go with it," I remarked.